Seven years after quitting The View, Rosie O’Donnell returned to the couch Barbara Walters built. Funny, engaging, and reliably controversial, she proved her unparalleled worth.
“Is Hasselbeck here? Just checking.”
With one naughty, haughty question, Rosie O’Donnell transports us all back to what was, at once, the most exciting and despicable time in daytime television: the Rosie O’Donnell/Elisabeth Hasselbeck wars of 2007. It was energizing, captivating television, watching two strong women unapologetically articulate their respectively controversial viewpoints and un-self-consciously debate and defend them against each other. It would’ve been inspiring had the moments—and they were the epitome of television “moments”—been organic. Instead, they were so callously orchestrated by The View’s producers (remember that offensive Jerry Springer-esque split screen shot?) that O’Donnell—that rare breath of air that’s fresh precisely because it’s a bit crude and rancid—quit the show feeling disgraced and used.
O’Donnell returned to The View’s couches for the first time since that exit seven years ago Friday, promoting her arc on ABC Family’s The Fosters, weighing in on Hot Topics, and becoming a one-woman crusade for women’s heart health. Elisabeth Hasselbeck wasn’t there. We missed her. We missed her and Rosie. But, mostly, we missed Rosie.
Her return to The View really was a reminder, but not just of a controversy-baiting feud that we all followed with such morbid glee those years ago. It was a reminder of the value of Rosie as a daytime personality. She’s cheery, but not vapid. Welcoming, but stern. Intelligent and resolute, but not patronizing or insulting. She’s a lightning rod we actually want to be holding, because the jolt of electricity she attracts is energizing and interesting. The “electricity” on The View now? Let’s just say it’s static…mind-frying, at best.
She began her homecoming seated right between Barbara Walters and Sherri Shepherd on The View couch, catching the girls up on what’s been going on in her life. Specifically, she regaled them with the story of a heart attack she suffered that should have ended her life. Her storytelling was Rosie at her best. She spoke about the medical issues with authority, but she never stopped sounding personal and intimate, like your best friend chatting over coffee. She, as she always has (and bless her for that), used the couch as a platform for a public service announcement and the necessity of women to be more astute about recognizing the symptoms of heart attacks.
And she was funny, too. Remembering that doctors asked her if she wanted to be shocked back to life if things went wrong during her surgery, she recalled, “I said a sentence I never thought I would utter. I said, ‘Doctor, I am adamantly pro-life.’” She said that her wife asked the nurse how her recovery compared to other patients’ who suffered similar heart attacks. “They’re all dead,” the nurse replied. Rosie O’Donnell is a medical marvel. A miracle. A gift to us all. Like we needed a nurse to tell us that.
The segment that The View had been promoting the bejeezus out of, however, was Rosie’s return to Hot Topics, once against baiting us with the possibility of “Rosie Unhinged,” as if she’s some beast who rages uncontrollably when fed polarizing issues to weigh in on, like a gremlin that’s been given water. The buildup was asinine. You could hear Rosie whisper, “Don’t worry, I’ll be good,” to Barbara Walters as the show went to commercial break after teasing her Hot Topics segment. What in the world did they think this woman was going to do? Was going to say? Were they afraid that, god forbid, she says something provocative interesting? This is a new age of The View, the Sherri Shepherd/Jenny McCarthy age. There’s no room for that anymore.
But, thankfully, Rosie was provocative and interesting. The first Hot Topic was Dylan Farrow’s essay detailing Woody Allen’s alleged molestation of her. It’s was more of a Scorching Topic, really, considering that Walters herself just came out staunchly Team Allen, suggesting that she didn’t believe Farrow’s claims. O’Donnell came out roaring. “I am very good friends with Mia Farrow. Like very close friends,” she said, daring anyone to disagree. “You can never really know what goes on in a house,” she said, silencing Walters when she did feebly attempt to state her own case.
“How’d I do on that one?” she asked when it was all done. You did great, Ro! “That one was tenacious. It could’ve been bad. I was editing.” Don’t edit! You’re so much fun. And smart. And entertaining. You do you!
Next up was the Justin Bieber meltdown, to which Rosie’s response was, “Fame is a tidal wave. It sweeps you away.” Rosie O’Donnell, daytime’s poet laureate, everyone. Really, O’Donnell has a knack for blending eloquence and accessibility in a way that none of the dozens of TV personalities who host the myriad panel daytime talk shows on today are able to do. Rosie’s assessment was then followed up with Sherri Shepherd stuttering and squawking and uttering half-words, the only audible part of which was “AND THEN THE EGGS!,” presumably referring to an incident in which Bieber allegedly egged a neighbor’s house. This is what we’re stuck with now, people.
O’Donnell then mentioned that it is possible for Bieber to turn his life around, pointing to Jodie Foster as an example of a child star who built a support system around her that fostered a healthy transition into adulthood. “Social media wasn’t around when Jodie Foster. Social media!” Shepherd began barking. Astute observation, Sherri.
The rest of O’Donnell’s segment had her analyzing our reaction to Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death in a novel way. Her take on the coverage of it all: it’s time to stop shaming addicts. It’s a hard thing for people to wrap their heads around, she admitted, to treat addiction as a disease the same we treat cancer as one. And complicated an issue as it was, she still managed to make the point with humor. “There’s not a cupcake I can walk past without tasting it,” she quipped, talking about what it’s like to have an addictive nature.
Rosie’s appearance on The View ended with Whoopi Goldberg asking her if she missed the platform she had with the show, the way that some of us—yours truly, among them—miss her having it. “Sometimes I do. When something happens in the country when I feel like, ‘Wow i wish that someone was saying this.’” But she doesn’t miss the vilification, the trolling, and the bile that comes from those who disagree with someone who’s unafraid to speak her mind.
As the camera cut to commercial break after Rosie signed off, you could hear her whispering again, this time to Jenny McCarthy, addressing her complaint in an earlier segment that her autistic son is unhappy at his school. “I know a school for him,” she said. “There are two schools for him in the city.”
Miss Rosie O’Donnell for the controversy she brings, sure, just as The View producers did in promoting her return Friday. But miss her more for the compassion she brings along with that controversy. That’s the secret sauce that nobody since has been able to replicate.